Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE
Like a lot of recovering politicos, I spent most of yesterday watching exit polling for tiny counties in Colorado and New Hampshire, waiting to see who would be our next President.
It wasn't lost on me how improbable all of this looked a decade ago. Later, in my living room, the incumbent president, a black guy with a funny name, was holding on for dear life against a Mormon with a funny name, while CNN manipulated some giantass ipod thing that apparently demographic data so detailed it can tell how many socks are in my drawer. Anything really is possible, huh?
We've seen that in college football this year as well. Kansas State marches on despite not being located in a state with any worthwhile talent and being led by a coach who voted for John Quincy Adams. Duke, yes, THAT Duke, is bowl eligible, and even got a vote in the AP poll once or twice. And now, the Indiana Hoosiers have won 2 Big Ten games in a row and are playing meaningful football games in November. There is honestly a non-trivial chance that Indiana could make the Big Ten Title game actually. Let that thought percolate in your noggins for a few moments. The Indiana Hoosiers could make a B1G Title game appearance before Ohio State. America – what a country eh?
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this development is not all Indiana's doing. If Ohio State and Penn State weren't on probation, Indiana is just another flawed team playing for their bowl eligibility life. The Hoosiers didn't magically develop into a top 25 program this year. They gave up over 200 yards rushing to a FCS running back during the first game of the season and only beat Indiana State by 7. They lost their starting QB, then a football game to Ball State, which started a 5 game losing streak (including an ignominious defeat at the hands of Navy). Even now, the Hoosiers are under .500, and their best win is against a rapidly imploding Iowa team. Such a resume does not scream title contender, even in the pillow fight that is the 2012 Big Ten.
But fate has smiled upon Bloomington, and the Hoosiers might just be good enough to take advantage of their fortune. Even at 4-5, this isn't last year's Indiana squad. The Hoosiers have simply reloaded at the QB position after injury, and quietly boost a very deep and explosive wideout corps. Kevin Wilson has engineered an offensive attack that is near the top of most conference categories, and can get big plays in a hurry, like Cody Latimer. Ask the Ohio State defense, who perhaps was a bit more preoccupied by names in front of the jerseys near the end of their game.
Indiana is catching Wisconsin at the right time. Their QB, Joel Stave, is out for the season, and Wisconsin has struggled to find offensive consistency outside of "give the ball to Montee Ball and hope for the best". Their defense has been competent, but not extraordinary, and they have a huge game with Ohio State the following week. If Bloomington is capable of ever producing home field advantage, they will for the UW/IU game.
Indiana's rush defense is still horrible, there is no doubt about it. Wilson will need more time to bring in the right caliber of talent to face B1G caliber rushing attacks, and tailback is unquestionably the strength of the Wisconsin unit. The Badgers should certainly be able to score, but can they score enough to keep up with Indiana? What if the Hoosiers jump to a quick lead and force Wisconsin to pass? Can they bring enough offensive balance?
Wisconsin is probably the better football team, by a not insignificant margin, but the fact that we can write about a big game in Bloomington with a perfectly straight face shows not just how crazy this season is, but how far Indiana has come. This was one of the worst BCS programs, if not worst FBS programs in the country last year. They will need to find 2 wins out of Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue to get to a bowl, but if Robinson doesn't get hurt, it isn't hard to imagine them beating Ball State and Navy, and suddenly we're talking about Indiana going 7-5. That would make this one of the most successful seasons in Indiana history!
We're off this weekend, and there are a lot of games that should feature more talented teams, but Wisconsin/Indiana is a game you ought to keep an eye on, at the very least. Maybe to get a little more advanced scouting on the Badgers, or to see if Ball can get back to form against a very suspect defense, or maybe to see if Bloomington can actually create a football crowd.
Or hell, maybe Indiana might just make the first step towards pulling one of the most improbable seasons of all time. By my count, it would appear that we just re-elected a guy named Barack Obama, and let Donald Trump be a legitimate political entity for months. Anything really is possible. Why not Indiana?